Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Aero Bars and Traffic Don’t Mix

I routinely commute between Evanston and Chicago’s Loop. Most days, a good chunk of the ride is on the Lakefront Trail. Now that the weather has warmed up, I no longer have LFT to myself. In particular, the triathletes are back.

I have no problems with triathlons. I think it’s a fine activity. However, I do have a problem with people who insist on riding in their aero tuck in congested traffic. I see people on their tri bikes tucked and hammering quite often these days. This morning (the straw which broke this camel’s back), I encountered an apparent novice triathlete wobbling along at speed, navigating through congestion which included not only me, but a couple joggers. The four of us were about to meet at roughly the same point. I had no problem slowing down, and at least one of the joggers would have been able to see the other rider. I’m sure she processed what was about to happen as well, but all she could do was plow through.

Unless an aero-bar-equipped bike is set up as a fixie (highly unlikely), there is no way to stop quickly. I don’t know how dicey it is to get in and out of the aero position, but it’s certainly going to slow down your move to the brakes in an emergency. Please, if you are a triathlete, don’t use your aero bars in congested situations. Tell your tri-friends as well.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Come on People!

I had a nice early morning bike ride today with some bike buddies, then stopped at the house to grab my bag, switch bikes (not sure why), then ride to work. I’m normally a pretty early morning rider, frequently getting to work before 7am. Today, I was riding through Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood right around 8am. Lots of cars. Lots of bikes.

My gripe today is with the people on the bikes. Start acting like grown-ups. I don’t care if you run every red light and stop sign as long as you a) don’t take the right-of-way from someone, and b) pay attention to what bikes ahead of you are doing.

Right of Way

If you get to a four-way stop or a red light and nobody is there, I won’t quibble with you blowing through the intersection. If there’s a kid trying to cross the street to get to school, or if there are cars with the right-of-way, you damn well better stop. If the way I saw people riding this morning is any indication, I think there are a lot of lawyers specializing in drawing up wills who should be advertising into the cycling community.

Bikes Stopped Ahead of You

For crying out loud, people! If another bike has seen fit to stop at an intersection or crosswalk, they probably did it for a good reason! Maybe you won’t be happy until you cream some kid on his way to school? Think of a bike stopped ahead of you as a second set of eyes (and a second brain, because obviously many of you aren’t using the one you’ve got). Listen to what he’s saying by stopping.

No wonder drivers hate us.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Equipment Check - Siva Cycle Atom

I purchased a Siva Atom via their Kickstarter campaign.  My main goal was to use it on long rides where I want to run a GPS app on my phone within sucking the battery dry.  I don't intend to use it to power lights.  It took them longer to get to production than they originally anticipated.  I took delivery on my Siva in late November 2014, just as winter got started.  Consequently, it sat on my workbench until a couple weeks ago.

I mounted it on one of my bikes (a Giant FCR3).  It took all of about five minutes to mount.  Like most modern bikes, the Giant has vertical dropouts, so all I needed to do was remove the rear skewer, wiggle the rear wheel out far enough to slip the dyno over the left side of the axle, wiggle it back, then replace the skewer.

In the time since I first installed it, I probably rode that bike to work (1+ hour one way) five or six times.  Assuming the dyno was putting out juice, the little battery pack in the Siva should be very well charged.  Other than a little bit of "notchiness" felt and sound heard when walking the bike, I couldn't tell the Siva was doing anything.  Once riding at a very low speed (couple mph?), I can't tell that it's there.  Of course, I'm getting to be an old fart, so my hearing isn't what it used to be.

A few days ago, I swiped a horrible mounting bracket from my wife's bike (well, "swiped" is kind of a strong word - she didn't like it one little bit and told me I could take it), slapped it on my Giant, then zip-tied a USB cord to my top tube and plugged in the phone.  Nothing.  "Damn," I thought.  "Oh well, nice experiment."  I turned on My Tracks to guarantee the phone was doing something marginally useful (though I do know how to get to work) and battery consuming as I rode.  Once I got the bike rolling, the phone started charging, as evidenced by the lightning bolt battery icon.  Whew!  Apparently, the little battery pack on the Siva won't discharge through the USB connector, only through its own USB port.  I will have to confirm that with the Siva folks.

Midway through the ride, I checked and the little lightning bolt icon had disappeared from my phone's display.  "Damn," I thought.  "Oh well, nice experiment," and continued on to work.  When I got near work I stopped just short of the office so My Tracks wouldn't spazz out when the GPS satellites disappeared behind the tall buildings.  I noticed the screen said, "fully charged," and when I unplugged the USB cable from the phone, the little green light behind the speaker turned off.  So, all was well on that front too.  Looks like the phone's charging circuitry disconnected itself from the 5v power once the battery was fully charged.  To be fair, the phone had been connected to a power source overnight, so it was already at 98% when I started out.

The phone was in a somewhat lower state of charge when I rode home.  On the ride home, the phone started out at 81%, ended at 92%.  Again, this was with My Tracks running.

After another day, I purposely left my phone disconnected from the charger last night.  When I took off this morning the battery charge was at 7%.  I didn't run My Tracks on the ride in this morning.  When I got to work, it was at 19%.  Fairly reasonable, though I was hoping for a bit more out of a one-hour ride.

So far, I'm happy with the Siva.  I haven't used it enough to really test its robustness, and haven't really tried it in wet weather.  If you're a dedicated dynohub person, I'm sure it won't be for you.  For someone like me who uses (recharegable or USB) battery lights, the Siva looks like a decent option.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Hot and Cold

Here in the midwest we are experiencing what the good folks in Lake Wobegone would term a “mild cold snap.” Not being as stoic as the citizens of that town on the edge of the prairie, the cold necessitated a bit more care in my kit the past few days.

I have neoprene booties on my shoes and use bar mitts on my handlebars, so both my toes and fingers are pretty well protected from the cold and wind. Still, without a little care, I will experience cold toes and/or cold fingers. Something dawned on me on the ride home yesterday. If my fingers get cold, I can push a bit harder and generate more heat. Then my fingers warm up. My toes might now be cold, though. I think that’s because the extra effort pushes my toes into the front of my shoe, reducing blood flow. I can focus on pulling more on the backstroke, reducing pressure on my toes (and increasing pressure on my heels), increasing blood flow to my toes, and they warm up. Alas, now I’m using my quads less and my (weaker) hamstrings more, so I don’t generate as much heat, and my fingers start to get cold again.

Yesterday I failed to find a happy medium. It looks like I need to develop my hamstrings more so they are capable of warming my fingers by themselves.

Monday, January 05, 2015


I love to ride my bikes (I have several). Some things that make me happy (there are many more):

  • Watching the sun rise over Lake Michigan
  • The momentary connection with a teenager I see practicing track stands
  • A quick wave to drivers who yield the right-of-way
  • The money I save when I don’t take the train to work
  • The countdown on the last few days before reaching 5,000 miles for the year
  • Working on my bikes

For all that, there are some things I don’t like. Scary stuff happens pretty frequently. I don’t like not being able to share the entirety of my bike experience with my lovely wife, simply because some of the things I might want to share would scare the bejeebers out of her. Like the near misses. Or the stories of other cyclists who have been maimed or killed by cars.

This all came into focus recently when I read about the death of Tom Palermo, a framebuilder in Baltimore, MD. Several aspects of the tragedy seemed eerily similar to those related to the death of Bobby Cann here in Chicago:

  • Both drivers had previous alcohol-related brushes with the law.
  • Both cyclists were struck from behind.
  • Both incidents occurred during the daytime on straight streets with plenty of visibility.

I went back and read the Chicago Reader article carefully (I don't recall seeing it before), and was struck by something. Ryne San Hamel, the driver accused of killing Bobby Cann, not only had two DUI arrests within a year as an underage (18-19yo) drinker ten years before, both cases had been plea bargained down to almost nothing, in exchange for seemingly hefty fines. From the article:

It seems one key to getting off easy is being arrested in the suburbs. "A lot of times, the village attorneys are just out to make money for the village," [Cathy] Stanley [court watch director for the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists] claims. In plea deals, village attorneys can reduce charges or overturn license suspensions in exchange for adding hefty fines, Stanley says. Prosecutors in the state's attorney's office, by contrast, "work much harder getting convictions."
The village attorney dropped the misdemeanor DUI charge, and San Hamel paid a $1,886 fine for making an improper turn. As part of the plea bargain, he also attended DUI school and completed one year of court supervision. The improper-turn citation was dropped too.

So we have what appears to be a significant conflict of interest on the part of the village attorney where this case was adjudicated, and probably for other city, town, county, and village attorneys all across the state. In exchange for a hefty fine (which almost certainly went into the village coffers, not into some sort of DUI fund), San Hamel never served a day in jail, and it appears he never lost his license. Furthermore, those two arrests were expunged from his record, so that in 2013, the police investigating the death of Bobby Cann initially only saw a ticket San Hamel had received for running a red light in 2010. They had no idea he was a multiple repeat offender.

It seems to me that local prosecutors should not have as much discretion as they do. They thwart the laws passed by the legislature in exchange for a few shekels added to their cities’ coffers. Wouldn't it be better to set up a system where local prosecutors are incentivized to pursue convictions instead of plea bargains? Perhaps the state should reward local jurisdictions monetarily for DUI convictions to remove the incentive to abrogate state law.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Interactions & Negotiations

The law here in Illinois says that as a cyclist I “must obey the same traffic laws, signs and signals that apply to motorists.” Even though I’m breaking the law, I frequently use the Idaho Stop; I roll through stop signs and often proceed through red lights after stopping. yet, I’m not a risk taker. Most cyclists aren't. Every time I get on my bike, I intend to return home safely. I’m not generally a scofflaw.

So, why do I (as a cyclist) frequently execute Idaho stops, given that they are not legal in Illinois? It’s really pretty simple. Every time I encounter a car, we have a bike/car interaction. (Bike/bike and bike/pedestrian interactions are also common, but are generally much less risky than those which involve cars.) The more I've considered this, the more it’s become apparent to me that every interaction between two parties (driver, cyclist, pedestrian) implies that a negotiation takes place.

A failed negotiation is a problem. The law attempts to very broadly short-circuit the need for negotiations, but does so in an imperfect fashion. Consider a four-way stop. I arrive at the intersection on my bike and want to continue straight. A car arrives after me from the right and wants to turn right. The law says I have the right-of-way, since I arrived at the intersection first. We have an interaction, and thus, a negotiation.

Strictly interpreted, the law specifies the outcome of that negotiation. I go, then the car goes. However, if we follow the law in the strict sense, and I proceed through the intersection, all I do is open myself up for another interaction and negotiation after both I and the driver have left the intersection, because the car is going to pass me, probably within the next block. That interaction is also governed by law here in Illinois (the three-foot rule). That rule is new (so isn't widely practiced yet), and it’s squishier than, say, the right-of-way rule at the intersection. Judging a three foot distance is more difficult than telling if a car has come to a complete stop. To complicate matters further, as the cyclist being overtaken, I’m at a distinct disadvantage in the negotiation. The driver holds most of the cards. I can move over and take the lane, but since I can’t see the driver, I can’t really tell what effect that maneuver has on him. Is he still going to try and pass me? Have I simply pissed him off? Have I confused him? If I don’t take the lane, am I opening myself up to getting doored? So, let’s back up to the original interaction at the intersection. Instead of using the default negotiation (the “contract” specified by the law?) It seems clear to me that I should yield my right-of-way to the driver to avoid the potentially more problematic future interaction.

Now, let’s consider another situation. I arrive at a stop light with a “no right on red” sign (quite common here in the Chicago area), and a car arrives after me, wanting to turn right. Furthermore, let’s assume nobody is coming from either direction on the cross street (a wasted green light). Should I wait for the light to change? In my mind, no. Just as in the first example, by proceeding through the red light, I avoid the possibility of a future interaction (me going straight, the driver turning) in which I am at a negotiating disadvantage. The driver might not have seen me, or might assume she can complete the turn before I get in her way.

To conclude, I try to ride in a way I feel minimizes interactions (especially with cars), and thus reduces the need to enter into negotiations. Reducing the number of negotiations reduces the chance of a negative result.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

StVZO lights

Here in the US of A, we apparently have no standards at the state or federal levels regarding bike light beam shape. Consequently, the only common choices available from any retailer (from Wal-Mart to specialty bike shops) are basically insanely powerful flashlights (we are, if nothing else, a bigger-is-better society) which attach to various parts of your bike or body. They are powerful enough, that I use a cheapo light which was retired from bike duty a couple years ago as a flashlight in my workshop. I suppose symmetric beam patterns are fine if you ride off-road, but they are not great when you ride on the road. One, such lights waste a lot of the light they generate. Light goes up and to the sides just as effectively as it goes down and to the front. Two, a good chunk of the light which doesn't illuminate your path serves mostly to blind oncoming bikes, cars and pedestrians. Even off-road, I have to question the utility of over-illuminating everything other than your path.
Over in Germany they do have a bike equipment standard, StVZO. I don't know what all the details are (it applies to other bike factors besides lighting), but it at least legislates headlight beam pattern. This is a good thing. More of the light generated goes where you need it -- on the road -- and much less of it goes where you don't. Consequently, the lights themselves don't need to generate as much raw output. You can get by with a lower power light which will last longer between charges or battery replacement.
I use a Philips SafeRide on my commuter, but there's nothing special about it. (I like it, but my intent here isn't to promote a specific light.) There are plenty of options available. In fact, if you search eBay for "StVZO" you will see lots of battery powered lights which advertise StVZO compliance. They don't seem to be any more expensive than their super powered flashlight brethren. Many are produced in Asia (no great surprise there), which probably helps keep costs down.
If you're looking for a new bike light, I think you should consider one with an StVZO-compliant beam. If you prefer to shop locally, ask your LBS what they can get their hands on. If their only option is to sell you what they can get from their distributors, ask them to lean on those folks. If that doesn't produce results, vote with your wallet and find something online.